January's Thyroid & Thyroid Cancer Awareness Art
Discovering Thyroid Cancer Without Trying
Following and interwoven with information about the thyroid gland is my story of how I came to care about my thyroid.
“I drew alll the artwork that illustrates this story, during my course of thyroid cancer treatment and recovery.”
During my months-long treatment my daughter attended the County Fair and bought herself a mop. The title is My Daughter Bought a Mop.
My own discovery came quite by accident, when the surgeon was suspicious of a hard and bumpy lump in my breast.
It was a mass leftover from a massive hemorrhage into the space vacated by the former breast inhabitant - breast cancer.
A couple years after my lumpectomy, with radiation and chemo, the untreated residual lump was visible to the eye, under my skin.
The new surgeon expressed concern and we scheduled a new surgery, which eventually removed the old culprit. But in the course of the preliminary studies that led up to that lumpectomy, I learned that I had another worrying diagnosis.
From the PET scan it was evident that I had thyroid cancer lesions. I set that concern aside while I submitted to, and recovered from, the immediately pertinent surgery.
The ensuing introduction to the Endocrinologist was an empowering experience. He looked at my scan results, interpreted them for me, and answered in the affirmative, when I asked him if I could delay the surgery, from the current month of February, until the end of summer.
He insisted on doing a needle core biopsy of the thyroid - sounded pretty straightforward to me.
Read about that experience below! It wasn't at all what I expected. I wanted to get up and run out of there, but that would have been awkward with the 4" needles protruding from my neck.
Next step on this tilting journey was the actual surgery.
image credits: all artwork copyrighted by the artist, Leslie Sinclair. No use permitted.
Images from the Public Domain are so credited.
Thyroid Awareness Month
“January is Thyroid Awareness Month.”
Because I've had thyroid cancer this is significant to me, and I hope you find this lens valuable for its educational content. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE).
What Does the Thyroid Do for Your Body?
it's a super organ
Location of the thyroid in the Endocrine System
1 - Pineal Gland
2 - Pituitary Gland
3 - Thyroid Gland
4 - Thymus
5 - Adrenal Gland
6 - Pancreas
7 - Ovary
8 - Testes
Thyroid's main role
is the stimulation of the body's metabolism, the way in which our bodies make use of our food. It also works in conjunction with the pituitary gland in regulating the release of stored calcium (in bones), into the circulation system.
Once Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) is released by the pituitary, the hormone circulates throughout the body. TSH delivers the messages to each and every cell in the body to: 1) pump out more protein or 2) to accelerate oxygen consumption.
The thyroid gland responds to the pituitary gland, which is in the brain. When the pituitary sends Thyroid Stimulating Hormone on to the thyroid, it signals the thyroid follicular cells to make T3 and T4. The numeral refers to the number of iodine-molecules arrayed in the particular T (thyroid) hormone.
T3 is called triiodothyronine. The most common brand name for synthetic T3 is Cytomel. These pills are tiny and easy to drop, in their smallest and most common dosage, 5 micrograms.
Some practitioners prescribe a desiccated animal product (pig thyroid), such as Armour ThyroidÂ®. This enduring practice began in the 19th Century. The entire animal thyroid gland is used in this item, meaning that the patient takes both T3 and T3.
T4 is called thyroxine. That means that the patient takes both T3,and T4 in the one tablet or capsule.
These specialized cells in the thyroid gland, manufacture calcitonin. Calcitonin has a magnificent role in placing excess blood calcium into the storage vaults in our bones, at the same time as the hormone helps us feel satiation. A natural appetite suppressant!
image credit: wikipedia commons
When the Thyroid Malfunctions
For the most part, we don't notice our thyroid glands until they go haywire and produce too much hormone, or they go into hibernation and produce none or very little of these critical hormones.
Sometimes we all wish we were hyperthyoid, when we meet persons who heap their plates full, yet never gain weight, and seem to run on fully-charged batteries.
No wonder the term "hyper" is so important to us, a measure of our value and pride.
Signs of possible hyperthyroidism include: weight loss while not dieting, running heartbeat, palpitations, even diarrhea without apparent cause, anxiety, and new tremors.
Frequently hyperthyroid patients have a condition called Grave's Disease, which includes symptoms such as: diffuse goiter, emotional lability and irritability, profuse sweating, and heat intolerance, among others.
To suffer from Hypothyroidism, a person's thyroid produces too little thyroid hormone, and that is the reason behind the iodinization of table salt in the U.S. in the 1920s. Grocery store shelves continued to offer both regular and iodized salt for decades.
Signs of hypothyroidism are a slow metabolism, with increased weight gain; fatigue; cramping in muscles, pain in joints, breaking hair and nails, lack of perspiration, and the boggy feeling that accompanies constipation; slow heart rhythm, and even joint and carpal tunnel problems.
image credit: government illustration from wikipedia commons
First Thyroid Cancer Poll
Do you know about thyroid cancer?
How Loss of My Thyroid Affected My Body
my story quips & copyrighted artwork
Thyroid hormone is a vital requirement for life. Lacking it, the body changes in ways that become more profound than previously imaginable.
My Endocrinologist wanted me to go cold-turkey without thyroid hormone for a very long time. Of course I did what he said; I didn't know anything about the disease, only that it could kill me.
Since I was slowly recovering from surgery, I didn't distinguish the early onset of thyroid hormone starvation. I was already somewhat weak and tired, so the gradual increasing fatigue wasn't a problem, in the beginning.
But during the 3rd month without the hormone I functioned on a very low level, the fatigue was so great. I did my ADLs, and nothing else, not television, not reading, only some radio listening, after I had given up drawing, for the period.
My hair had grown in lush and full, and especially curly (already had been curly), so it took a good long time before I realized that I was losing hair, and by the time I became aware of the hair loss, I was so tired I really didn't care.
Oh, did I mention that cognitive functioning also declines, and for me, I remember being a novice internet user, but I did use the computer for writing. After six weeks of no thyroid hormone I began to forget what I was thinking. I mean I forgot what I was writing.
When I read a page in a book it was as if my brain jumped around in its understanding. I would be reading the 2nd sentence of a paragraph, when, in the middle of the sentence, I would find myself down a few more lines, never having read the words of the 1st sentence. Reading ceased to make sense.
Since my metabolism slowed down, I achieved a record (for me) weight gain, even from normal amounts of food, I had plenty of loose tops, skirts, and pants, and the weight showed up, again, before I noticed. And this is one more thing about which I did not care (cognitive decline).
The one strikingly obvious change that I could not fail to notice was the change in my speech quality. My formerly rapid pace of speech slowed like a train climbing the steepest mountain track. Folks forgot what I said at the beginning of a sentence, by the time I reach the end! I felt like an observer outside my own body.
Not only did my speech slow down, the register changed. Suddenly I didn't recognize the voice I heard. It was as if I were riding the rails, and my voice jumped each time we crossed a railroad tie. Really, I was the epitome of gravelly speech! When my Endocrinologist called me to discuss the impending I-131 treatment and hospitalization, he didn't recognize my voice and couldn't believe he was actually talking to me.
sensitivity to cold
I felt the cold, gradually more so. Since I was so inactive, and my metabolism was slowed down, it was natural to feel the cold, but I had the unwanted luxury of not working and ventured out only for shopping during the first two months. I had enough warm clothes to always keep warm, so this was not a part of the problem for me, like it is for the majority of thyroid cancer survivors.
Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
I didn't have any of these
I didn't have any symptoms, but I did have a teenage treatment in the '50s - radiation for a skin condition.
A decade later I read an article about how the great majority of those who had received such treatments did develop thyroid cancer ten years - or so - later. Therefore, I had the yearly scans that were recommended, for several of the following five years. Afterwards, we moved, and I forgot all about the warning.
Even if I had been handed a list of symptoms to be aware of, it is likely that it would have ended up back in a medical file folder, forgotten, like last year's weeds. I hope this lens will bring the symptoms of thyroid cancer into the open.
Allergies commonly cause coughs, because of the drainage at the back of the throat, so after you've had that checked out, if you are still bothered, it might be worth it to see an Endocrinologist for a thyroid check up. .
Prior to thyroid cancer I didn't have any challenges in swallowing my foods. If you notice that it is harder to get your foods down, it is a good idea to check that out with your doctor, mentioning that you read that this is one of the potential signs of thyroid cancer.
Enlargement of the thyroid gland
During a physical exam your doctor may find a thickening in the area of the thyroid. If you have any reason to suspect thyroid cancer, you might ask to be evaluated by an Endocrinologist, and be sure to share your concerns with the specialist.
Hoarseness or changing voice
Smokers commonly experience a change in the timbre of their voices, but if you are not a smoker (or even if you are), and you hear a lowering of your adult voice, and a roughness that is new, consider asking for an evaluation for thyroid cancer. The disease does not get better on its own.
Thyroid lump (nodule)
Thyroid lumps, called goiters, do not necessarily mean thyroid cancer. If you notice a swelling in the front or side of your neck be certain to have it checked out. Such lumps are not normal and require evaluation.
Thyroid Cancer Poll #2
What did you think of the Low Iodine Diet?
Core Needle Biopsy of the Thyroid
In some cases the Endocrinologist opts for a Fine Needle Biopsy of the thyroid nodule (lump or growth on the gland). Then a very thin needle is directed into the nodule to extract small amounts of the fluid inside.
Numbing of the area can be accomplished by delivery of a local anesthetic, before the procedure begins. In any case the patient reclines in a special chair, in a sterile room.
My doctor chose not to use the anesthetic to my great chagrin! I don't remember the reasoning. I do remember sitting there, as nervous trepidation spiraled round me like vines on steroids.
I can still envision the sight of the first needle, magnified in size by the level of my fear, as it approached me. Finally I slammed my eyelids shut on the vision.
Then I practiced deep breathing, once the doctor agreed to give me to the count-of-three, so I could get in a good long exhalation right at the moment of insertion.
Had it not been for that practiced technique I swear I would have risen right out of the chair and run out of the hospital. I'm not afraid of needles, but needles in my neck is a different matter.
The Endocrinologist chose to err on the side of using too many needles, rather than risking a repeat performance, if the first set of ultrasound-guided extractions hadn't worked to retrieve cancer cells.
The doctor succeeded, ending up with an abundance of thyroid cells to study, and he easily confirmed that I did have the disease.
Radioactive Iodine Treatment
the radioactive pill
If the doctor decides to conclude the treatment with a punch, the Endocrinologist determines how large a dose of radioactive medicine to give.
Special precautions are taken. Although the pill is not large, it is also not dispensed in the usual manner. The patient doesn't receive a prescription for the specialized iodine.
hospitalization or isolation
The patient's Endocrinologist will decide whether to isolate them in the home or in a specialized room the hospital.
A person who lives alone may be able to remain in their home for a short period of days after taking the pill, provided they meet strict guidelines for no contact with pets or persons during that time.
Other patients will spend three or more days in a hospital room, following strict protocol, which may include packing along only disposable belongings. A lead shield will block most of the open door.
The only people who will enter will be the doctors who wheel in a R2D2 type of contraption and oversee the consumption of The Pill.
Utmost concern is given to the protection of family members who want to stay nearby, and to visit, and to the patient who may be determined to return to work the day they take the pill and leave the hospital.
In many cases, it was exposure to radiation that caused the development of the patient's thyroid cancer in the first place, and the intention is to prevent such repetition in others. For a limited amount of time this is a period for solo existence.
Thyroid Cancer Poll #3
After surgery did you begin taking thyroid hormone?
From the authors of Thyroid Power (more than 60,000 copies in paperback sold) comes a practical, hands-on program for the fat, fuzzy, and frazzled among us to feel better fast For the 33 million Americans who feel sluggish, spacey, and stressed out daily, Feeling Fat, Fuzzy, or Frazzled? is the first book to address the delicate balance among the thyroid, adrenal, and reproductive glandsâwhich can make the day-to-day difference between feeling awful and feeling good. Long-term, if left untreated, this imbalance can cause heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, infertility, and severe menopause. Authored by an expert physician/nurse team, the book offers readers: an innovative program to identify their particular hormone-related metabolic disorder; a â5-day jumpstart programâ to help alleviate weight gain, low energy, or frayed nerves fast; and a long-term plan to achieve optimal health. BACKCOVER: âA must-read for anyone with a thyroid or other hormone problem.â âChristiane Northrup,MD âA clear, comprehensive, and integrated road map to restore and rebalance our hormones.â âMary J. Shomon, author of The Thyroid Diet and Living Well with Hypothyroidism
NOWÂ® Thyroid Energyâ¢ is a complete nutritional supplement for the support of healthy thyroid function.Â NOWÂ® has combined Iodine (from Kelp) and Tyrosine, the two integral constituents of thyroid hormone, with the minerals Selenium, Zinc and Copper, to assist in its production.Â In addition, NOWÂ® Thyroid Energyâ¢ contains Guggul Extract, an Ayurvedic herb known for its ability to support a healthy metabolism.*
Learn to Support Thyroid Health
A husband, who is a doctor, and his wife, with a PhD, wrote this comprehensive book to help individuals do some detective work into thyroid health and illness prevention. They tie a myriad of problems to recognition of trouble, and immune system repair.
A Patient-to-Patient Manual
Why taking only T4 hormone supplementation may not be the best route after surgery. Covers best meds, labwork, causes, and promotes use of Armour instead.
Poll Question #4
How has your life changed since thyroid cancer diagnosis?
Treat Your Hashimoto's Thyroid Disease
Written by a Naturopathic Physician, to provide researched information to patients and to their Endocrinologists. Explains the root cause of Hashimoto's.
It's Important to Live Well with Hypothyroidism
One-in-eight now applies to women having thyroid conditions. Written by a health writer with thyroid illness. Some patients do better on T3 and T4, given together, than taking only T4.
Change Your Diet for Thyroid Health
I like the way this book helps the reader uncover the underlying conditions that may too often be dismissed as merely aging or irritability or depression, and not recognized as symptoms of thyroid disease.
Hone in on Women's Thyroid Health
I appreciate the focus on solutions to the thyroid problems that often are overlooked or dismissed, as just part of the hypothyroid condition. Learn how nutrition plays a vital role in symptom management, and find your options for treatments.
Cook Easily for the Good of Your Thyroid
Learn how foods play a huge role in recovering and maintaining thyroid health. Learn how food affects the thyroid and medications, too.
Thyroid Cancer Poll #5
Levoxyl is a replacement for a hormone that is normally produced by your thyroid gland. It is a synthetic drug that works on regulation of many of the body's systems that govern energy production and metabolism of foods. Levoxyl is given when the thyroid does not produce enough of this hormone on its own.
Synthroid is the brand name for the same thyroid hormone. It is used to suppress the level of thyroid hormone in the body, in case some cancer cells remained in the body after surgery - cells that might not have been killed off by the Radioactive Iodine I-131 treatment, and/or by Radiation, and in some cases, chemotherapy.